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Apollo invests in hydrogen and CNG storage and transportation solutions provider

Apollo funds have acquired a majority interest in a manufacturer of cylinders that facilitate the use of natural gas and hydrogen.

Apollo-managed funds have acquired a majority interest in Composite Advanced Technologies, Inc, a provider of compressed natural gas (CNG), renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen transportation and storage solutions in the United States, according to a news release.

CATEC’s products and services help its customers transition away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels towards cleaner alternatives. Founded in 2014 and based in Houston, CATEC manufactures large format Type IV cylinders that facilitate the use of natural gas and hydrogen across a wide variety of industry applications when mounted on mobile trailers or used in stationary applications.

TerraNova Capital served as financial advisor and Baker Botts L.L.P. acted as legal counsel to CATEC. Vinson & Elkins LLP acted as legal counsel to the Apollo Funds. Financial terms were not disclosed.

CATEC’s high capacity, lightweight trailers and storage solutions help end-customers decarbonize, while making lower carbon energy sources more accessible and affordable. Gaseous fuels are one important solution for reducing carbon emissions in certain ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors. As penetration of natural gas continues and the hydrogen economy grows, logistics are expected be a constraint and CATEC is an early mover in providing safe and efficient solutions for a wide range of end uses.

Apollo Funds intend to invest further capital behind the company, seeking to establish a leading gaseous equipment manufacturing and services platform with enhanced capabilities and customer offerings to support expansion in the high-growth hydrogen transport and storage market, the release states.

Apollo Partner Scott Browning said, “CATEC’s proprietary manufacturing capabilities are critical to supporting the growing market demand to reduce carbon emissions in ‘hard-to-decarbonize’ industries. The CATEC team has built an impressive business, which we believe can scale to become a one-stop-shop platform for serving the equipment needs of the compressed gas value chain through various expansion initiatives. We look forward to helping accelerate the Company’s growth trajectory in support of the broader energy transition.”

Alberto Chiesara, Co-Founder and President of CATEC, added, “We are pleased to join forces with Apollo Funds to help expand our capabilities and better support the growing adoption of low-carbon fuel solutions such as hydrogen, RNG and CNG. Apollo’s track record in energy transition investing, industry experience and significant resources make them an ideal partner for CATEC as we scale and embark on our next phase of growth.”

Co-Founder of CATEC Ryan Comerford said, “It has been a privilege to help lead the team, and I’m confident new management, with the backing of Apollo Funds, will position the Company for further growth and success.”

The transaction underscores Apollo’s commitment to driving a more sustainable future and long track record of investing in or lending to companies supporting the energy transition. Last year, Apollo launched its Sustainable Investing Platform, which targets to deploy $50 in clean energy and climate capital by 2027 and sees the opportunity to deploy more than $100bn by 2030. Over the last five years, Apollo Funds have deployed over $23bn into energy transition and sustainability-related investments, supporting companies and projects across clean energy and infrastructure, including offshore and onshore wind, solar, storage, renewable fuels, electric vehicles as well as a wide range of technologies to facilitate decarbonization.

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Hystar to establish North American electrolyzer production

The Norway-based electrolyzer maker will begin hiring for North American headquarters, with plans to establish a multi-GW facility by 2027.

Norwegian electrolyzer maker Hystar is planning to expand into North America, establishing a headquarters next year and a multi-GW factory by 2027, according to a news release.

As part of its expansion, Hystar will soon initiate the hiring process for its new North American headquarters. Additionally, the company is in discussions with key stakeholders in both the United States and Canada to establish its first GW factory on the continent, where Hystar expects its commercial operations may exceed its European plans within the decade. The company has not ruled out the possibility of investing in further GW factories before 2030.

Hystar said in the same release it will deliver a fully automated 4 GW electrolyser factory in Høvik, Norway (just west of Oslo) by 2025, with construction commencing in early 2024.

The company earlier this year raised $26m in a Series B funding round co-led by AP Ventures and Mitsubishi Corporation. Additional investors in the round included Finindus, Nippon Steel Trading, Hillhouse Investment and Trustbridge Partners, alongside existing investors SINTEF Ventures and Firda.

Commenting on their expansion plans, Fredrik Mowill, CEO of Hystar, said: “Our Høvik GW factory demonstrates our commitment to rapidly expanding our European operations and meeting the strong demand for our technology across Europe. As we continue to scale up our operations, we are now looking at opportunities beyond Europe – the North American market has created a highly favourable environment for companies like ours to thrive in. We are looking forward to identifying the ideal North American location for Hystar.

Hystar has already commenced production of its electrolyzer stacks for its upcoming PEM electrolyzer deliveries using its existing facilities, which have a production capacity of 50 MW annually.  As such, Hystar’s ramp-up to a GW factory marks a significant expansion to meet the surging demand for its breakthrough technology. The supplier for the Høvik GW automated production line will be selected later this year, and the factory’s production line will be fully operational by 2026.

Upcoming deliveries from Hystar include a 1 MW electrolyzer in Q4 2023 for Norwegian companies Equinor, Yara Clean Ammonia, and Gassco, for the HyPilot field project in Kårstø, Norway. This will be followed by a 5 MW electrolyzer for Poland’s largest private energy company, Polenergia, in Q3 2024 for their H2HubNS project in Nowa Sarzyna, Poland.

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SOEC electrolyzer maker Sunfire attracts EUR 500m

German electrolyzer maker Sunfire added new equity investors including GIC and secured a loan from the European Investment Bank.

The German electrolyzer manufacturer Sunfire has raised EUR 215 million in a Series E equity financing round, further complemented by a term loan of up to EUR 100 million provided by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

In addition, Sunfire has access to approx. EUR 200 million from previously approved, undrawn grant funding to support its growth, according to a news release. This makes Sunfire one of the best capitalized electrolyzer manufacturers in the industry.

Sunfire announces the successful completion of a substantial Series E financing round, raising EUR 215 million in equity capital. The new investment will further boost the company’s critical role in ramping up the hydrogen economy. Sunfire welcomes LGT Private Banking, GIC, Ahren Innovation Capital, and Carbon Equity as new investors. The transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals and is expected to close in Q2 2024.

Sunfire-CEO Nils Aldag said, “This substantial financing round is good news for Europe’s leading role in hydrogen production and for the European clean-tech industry. I am delighted to welcome additional investors backing our vision, product offering, and capabilities to deliver industrial electrolyzers at pace and scale. With this new capital, we are uniquely positioned to further accelerate our company’s growth and industrialization plans to meet the fast-growing demand for electrolysis technologies.”

In addition to the new investors, existing shareholders have increased their investment in Sunfire – among them Lightrock, Planet First Partners, Carbon Direct Capital, the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, and Blue Earth Capital.

In line with Sunfire’s commitment to financial diversification, the company has also secured a credit of up to EUR 100 million from the European Investment Bank (EIB), which provides increased capacity to boost its development and industrialization of solid oxide electrolyzers.

Sunfire’s pressurized alkaline and high-temperature solid oxide electrolysis technologies are a key enabler of the transition to renewable energy, offering a scalable and efficient means of producing green hydrogen. The company targets installing several gigawatts of electrolysis equipment by 2030 in large-scale green hydrogen projects, securing a leading position in the fast-growing global electrolyzer market.

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Technology in focus: Avnos’ hybrid direct air capture uses water instead of heat

By using water captured from the atmosphere to regenerate its CO2-capturing sorbents, Avnos hopes to cut the operating costs of direct air capture plants and lower barriers to deployment.

One of the challenges of direct air capture (DAC), the new technology that promises to extract carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the air all around us, is that it needs a lot of energy, and thus costs a lot of money. Currently, different types of DAC technologies require between 6 and 10 gigajoules per ton of carbon dioxide captured, according to the International Energy Agency.

The key to making a new DAC technology successful therefore is cutting energy needs and costs. Avnos, a Los Angeles-based carbon removal company, is trying to accomplish this by developing what it calls hybrid direct air capture (HDAC), backed by $36m in Series A funding closed in February, and over $80m in strategic and investment partnerships, announced in July

Avnos’ process is described as “hybrid” DAC because it captures both CO2 and water, as humidity, from the atmosphere at the same time. 

“In a generic DAC process, heat is critical to separating the captured CO2 from its ‘sponge,’ or sorbent, and regenerating that sorbent so that a plant may operate cyclically,” Avnos co-founder and CEO Will Kain said in an interview. “By contrast, Avnos uses a reaction enabled by the water it sources from the atmosphere to regenerate its sorbents. The impact of this use of water in the place of heat lowers the operating costs of an Avnos plant and lowers the barriers to deployment.” 

Less heat means less energy, which means companies using Avnos’ technology will have to compete less than regular DAC to access carbon-free energy sources and will have more flexibility in terms of where to put their facilities. 

“Unlike peer DAC companies who build and operate their hardware, our product is designed to be licensed and operated by any company committed to decarbonization and allows them to upgrade, modularly, as the tech advances over the long term,” Kain told ReSource

Avnos has an active pilot plant in Bakersfield, California, funded by the Department Of Energy and SoCal Gas. The plant began operating in November 2023, and it can capture 30 tons of CO2 and produce 150 tons of water annually. 

The company is also in the process of building a second pilot plant with the U.S. Office of Naval Research to pilot CO2 capture and e-fuels production – Avnos does not currently produce e-fuels, but sustainable aviation fuels producers could use its technology to source water and CO2, and it partners with sustainable aviation investors like JetBlue Ventures and Safran. 

Additionally, it is going to use money from its recently announced round of funding to open a research and development facility outside New York City, and it says it’s involved in four of the developing DAC hubs that were selected for funding awards by the DOE: the California Direct Air Capture Hub, the Western Regional DAC Hub, the Pelican-Gulf Coast Carbon Removal, and a fourth undisclosed one.

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Interview: Vinson & Elkins’ Alan Alexander on the emerging hydrogen project development landscape

Vinson & Elkins Partner Alan Alexander, whose clients include OCI and Lotus Infrastructure, has watched the hydrogen project development space evolve from a fledgling idea to one that is ready for actionable projects.

Vinson & Elkins Partner Alan Alexander, whose clients include OCI and Lotus Infrastructure, has watched the hydrogen project development space evolve from a fledgling idea to one that is ready for actionable projects.

In the meantime, a number of novel legal and commercial issues facing hydrogen project developers have come to the forefront, as outlined in a paper from the law firm this week, which serves as a guide for thinking through major development questions that can snag projects.

In an interview, Alexander, a Houston-based project development and finance lawyer, says that, although some of the issues are unique – like the potential for a clean fuels pricing premium, ownership of environmental attributes, or carbon leaking from a sequestration site – addressing them is built on decades of practice.

“The way I like to put it is, yes, there are new issues being addressed using traditional tools, but there’s not yet a consensus around what constitutes ‘market terms’ for a number of them, so we are having to figure that out as we go,” he says.

Green hydrogen projects, for example, are “quite possibly” the most complex project type he has seen, given that they sit at the nexus between renewable electricity and downstream fuels applications, subjecting them to the commercial and permitting issues inherent in both verticals.

But even given the challenges, Alexander believes the market has reached commercial take-off for certain types of projects.

“When the hydrogen rush started, first it was renewables developers who knew a lot about how to develop renewables but nothing about how to market and sell hydrogen,” he says. “Then you got the people who were very enthusiastic about developing hydrogen projects but didn’t know exactly what to do with it. And now we’re beginning to see end-use cases develop and actionable projects that are very exciting, in some cases where renewables developers and hydrogen developers have teamed up to focus on their core competencies.”

A pricing premium?

In the article, Vinson & Elkins lawyers note that commodities pricing indices are not yet distinguishing between low-carbon and traditional fuels, even though a clean fuel has more value due to its low-carbon attributes. The observation echoes the conclusion of a group of offtakers who viewed the prospect of paying a premium for clean fuels as unrealistic, as they would need to pass on the higher costs to customers.

Eventually, Alexander says, the offtake market should price in a premium for clean products, but that might depend in the near term on incentives for clean fuels demand, such as carbon offsets and levies, like the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism.

“Ultimately what we need is for the market to say, ‘I will pay more for low-carbon products,’” he says. “The mindset of being willing to pay more for low-carbon products is going to need to begin to permeate into other sectors. 30 or 40 years ago the notion of paying a premium for an organic food didn’t exist. But today there are whole grocery store chains built around the idea. When the consumer is willing to pay a premium for low-carbon food, that will incentivize a farmer to pay a premium for low carbon fertilizer and ammonia, which will ultimately incentivize the payment of a premium for low-carbon hydrogen. The same needs to repeat itself across other sectors, such as fuels and anything made from steel.”

The law firm writes that US projects seeking to export to Europe or Asia need to take into account the greenhouse gas emissions and other requirements of the destination market when designing projects.

In the agreements that V&E is working on, for example, clients were first focused on structuring to make sure they met requirements for IRA tax credits and other domestic incentives, Alexander says. Meanwhile, as those clean fuels made their way to export markets, customers were coming back with a long list of requirements, “so what we’re seeing is this very interesting influx” of sustainability considerations into the hydrogen space, many of which are driven by requirements of the end-use market, such as the EU or Japan.

The more stringent requirements have existed for products like biofuels for some time, he adds, “but we’re beginning to see it in hydrogen and non-biogenic fuels.”

Sharing risk

Hydrogen projects are encountering other novel commercial and legal issues for which a “market” has not yet been developed, the law firm says, especially given the entry of a raft of new players and the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

In the case of a blue hydrogen or ammonia project where carbon is captured and sequestered but eventually leaks from a geological formation, for example, no one knows what the risk truly is, and the market is waiting for an insurance product to provide protection, Alexander says. But until it does, project parties can implement a risk-sharing mechanism in the form of a cap on liabilities – a traditional project development tool.

“If you’re a sequestration party you say, ‘Yeah, I get it, there is a risk of recapture and you’re relying on me to make sure that it doesn’t happen. But if something catastrophic does happen and the government were to reclaim your tax credits, it would bankrupt me if I were to fully indemnify you. So I simply can’t take the full amount of that risk.’”

What ends up getting negotiated is a cap on the liability, Alexander says, or the limit up to which the sequestration party is willing to absorb the liability through an indemnity.

The market is also evolving to take into account project-on-project risk for hydrogen, where an electrolyzer facility depends on the availability of, for example, clean electricity from a newly built wind farm.

“For most of my career, having a project up and reaching commercial operations by a certain date is addressed through no-fault termination rights,” he says. “But given the number of players in the hydrogen space and the amount of dollars involved, you’re beginning to see delay liquidated damages – which are typically an EPC concept – creep into supply and offtake agreements.”

If a developer is building an electrolyzer facility, and the renewables partner doesn’t have the wind farm up and running on time, it’s not in the hydrogen developer’s interest to terminate through a no-fault clause, given that they would then have a stranded asset and need to start over with another renewable power provider. Instead, Alexander says, the renewables partner can offset the losses by paying liquidated damages.

Commercial watch list

In terms of interesting commercial models for hydrogen, Alexander says he is watching the onsite modular hydrogen development space as well as power-to-fuels (natural gas, diesel, SAF), ammonia and methanol, given the challenges of transporting hydrogen.

“If you’re going to produce hydrogen, you need to produce it close to the place where it’s going to be consumed, because transporting it is hard. Or you need to turn it into something else that we already know how to transport – natural gas, renewable diesel, naphtha, ammonia.”

Alexander believes power-to-fuels projects and developers that are focused on smaller, on-site modular low-carbon hydrogen production are some of the most interesting to watch right now. Emitters are starting to realize they can lower their overall carbon footprint, he says, with a relatively small amount of low-carbon fuels and inputs.

“The argument there is to not completely replace an industrial gas supplier but to displace a little bit of it.”

At the same time, the mobility market may take off with help from US government incentives for hydrogen production and the growing realization that EVs might not provide a silver-bullet solution for decarbonizing transport, Alexander adds. However, hydrogen project developers targeting the mobility market are still competing with the cost of diesel, the current “bogey” for the hydrogen heavy mobility space, Alexander says.

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3Q deals in focus: Macquarie’s investment in Atlas Agro

In one of the largest and most compelling clean fuels deals of 3Q23, Macquarie made a $325m investment into Americas-focused Atlas Agro, a developer of industrial-scale green nitrogen fertilizer plants that utilize green hydrogen as a feedstock. William Demas, head of Macquarie Asset Management Green Investments in the Americas, provides a closer look.

Macquarie Asset Management’s investment into green nitrogen developer Atlas Agro gives the manager a stake in the company along with the ability to invest in the developer’s projects.

The $325m investment, made via the Macquarie GIG Energy Transition Solutions fund, will benefit Atlas Agro’s previously announced fertilizer plant project in Richland, WA, and will also support the company’s global pipeline of green fertilizer facilities, according to William Demas, head of Macquarie Asset Management Green Investments in the Americas.

In addition to the 700,000 tons-per-year Richland project, Atlas Agro is pursuing a project in Minas Gerais, Brazil that will produce 500,000 tons per year. Both projects would make nitrate fertilizer and are estimated to cost $1bn. An additional facility is planned for the US Midwest.

In the production process, the plants utilize air, water, and renewable electricity as the only raw materials.

“There are a number of things that attracted us to Atlas Agro,” Demas said in response to written questions. “They have a strong management team with an established track record managing established companies and delivering projects in the fertilizer space.”

The GIG Energy Transition Solutions fund has a target size of approximately $1.9bn, which to date is just over 50% committed, according to a source familiar with the fund.

Next phase

Equally important for the Atlas investment, Demas added, is that the company is aligned with Macquarie’s next phase energy transition thesis in the US – in this case hydrogen. 

“In this application, green hydrogen will be used as a feedstock rather than as an energy carrier, and the end-product of green fertilizer will attract customers looking to enter into long-term offtake contracts,” he said.

Through the development of plants in Washington state and the US Midwest, Atlas Agro is seeking to take advantage of favorable logistics to displace the need for imported fossil-fuel based fertilizer. Brazil also imports around 95% of its nitrogen fertilizers, according to Atlas.

“An important benefit of Atlas Agro’s model is the availability of locally produced, high-quality fertilizer, eliminating many of the issues associated with international supply chains,” Demas said, noting that offtakers are local to Atlas Agro’s operations.

Further, Macquarie and Atlas plan to pursue a project finance model for funding the projects under development.

“As an infrastructure investor, we focus on opportunities that are bankable, which means, ultimately project financeable,” Demas said. “We backed Atlas Agro because we believe their approach to project development, commercialization, construction and operations aligns with our views on how to underwrite infrastructure investments.”

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Exclusive: Seattle biomass-to-chemical firm planning equity round

A firm with plans for a biorefinery in Washington state will raise its first large equity round early next year.

Planted Materials, a Seattle-based biomass-to-chemicals company, is in early design stages for its first biorefinery in eastern Washington state and planning to raise an equity round in early 2025, co-founders Noah Belkhous and Greg Jenson said in an interview.

The company will seek to raise between $10m and $20m ahead of FID on the biorefinery, Belkhous said. The four-year-old company has raised $500k from angel investors to date and is currently raising another $1m from high net worth individuals in the Seattle region.

Planted Materials does not have a relationship with a financial advisor but is open to one, Belkhous said.

The company’s recycling model takes municipal landfill waste and converts it to chemical materials for pharmaceutical, paper, plastic and other manufacturing industries.

The proprietary recycling process is something the company would like to license to municipalities in the US and abroad, in addition to building biorefineries in the Pacific Northwest, Belkhous said. The company’s lab is currently based in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.

Early design work on the first biorefinery is underway. The duo expects CapEx to cap at $50m, reaching FID in 2026 and beginning construction that year.

While the majority of the company’s feedstock will likely come from the major metropolitan regions in the western PNW, refining capacity is more attractive in the east for reasons of space and existing waste management infrastructure. Jenson noted the presence of the relevant research campus of Washington State University in Pullman, as well as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

Recently, the team accompanied Washington Governor Jay Inslee and members of the Washington State Department of Commerce on a trip to Sydney and Melbourne in Australia. The company has applied to a pair of $350k grants from the state.
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